Do I need a sleep study if I feel paralyzed when falling asleep?

This question was asked in Hopewell, Missouri on 02/08/2013.
Ever since I was young, I have always had trouble falling and staying asleep. I have never described to anyone how I feel when I first begin falling asleep because I am embarrassed by how unusual and disturbing it sounds, but I feel I must know if there is a reason behind this. When I first start falling asleep if feel really uncomfortable and out of place. I feel as if my body and mind are sinking into a different state, something I would describe as a sort of coma. Then I start to feel like I am trapped in this state of mind and cannot get out, like I'm paralyzed. I feel like I am kicking and screaming trying to fight this state until eventually I am finally awake again. I have asked others that are close by when I'm sleeping if I scream or kick or make any disturbing movements but they all assure me I do not move or make sounds at all. I have been taking medication to fall asleep for a while now, but this happened before I ever took the meds and continues to happen if I don’t take them at night. This has never sounded normal to me so I'm curious if you know why this happens or have any thoughts? I've considered getting a sleep study done. Please let me know your thoughts.

Doctors Answers (3)

Jana P. Kaimal, MD, FCCP
Answered on: 4/5/2013 7

Yes, please consider seeking the advice of a qualified sleep specialist. A sleep study provides valuable insight into your body's physical and mental activity during sleep. The best place to start, however, is with an initial consultation.

J. Douglas Hudson, MD, DABSM
Answered on: 2/25/2013

You are paralyzed as you fall asleep because you likely are in REM sleep almost immediately upon falling asleep. Everyone is paralyzed during REM sleep; except, of course, not our muscles of respiration (although they are weakened). During this transition from wakefulness to REM sleep there may persist some element of wakefulness, thus you are awake and paralyzed. It is not normal to go from wakefulness to REM sleep. We see this phenomenon in various sleep disorders or secondary to to certain medications but the most treatable disorder is narcolepsy. There are other possibilities such as night terrors but you need to see a board certified sleep specialist as treatment is available.

Courtney Whitney, DO
Answered on: 2/11/2013

What you are describing sounds like Sleep Paralysis (I have experienced it myself on a rare occasion). This can be a normal experience for some with a variety of triggers (your frequency and intensity seem outside the normal). It also is a prevalent symptom of patients with Narcolepsy. Let us know if we can help. Our website and the national sleep foundation's also has more information.